The Importance of Authenticity During My Journey to the TEDx Stage

screenshot of TEDxCherryCreekWomen2018 page with logo that looks like a blooming flower and the words "showing up" above it.

Back in middle school, an adult amputee came to speak at an assembly and I got to meet with him afterwards since we had the amputee thing in common.  I remember that his story could roughly be summarized as follows: he was living a great life, he had an injury that lead to amputation of his leg, he was super depressed about it and thought his life was over, then he overcame all of that to get to a place where he was able to speak to others in order to motivate them.  What was particularly curious to me was that when I met with him privately afterwards, he wasn’t particularly motivating or even seemingly happy, and I didn’t really see him as a person I would choose as a role model.  There are two things that strike me about this memory from middle school as my opportunity to give a talk on the TEDx stage looms closer and closer.

First, I do not have a story like this speaker.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the story of overcoming challenges after an unexpected thing happens to you in life, and I think many people gain a huge amount of motivation from hearing those stories.  However, that is not my story.  I have never been mad about being an amputee, and although I did have some mental struggles after my revision surgery in 2010, that was a mere blip in my story and nothing I would focus a speech around.  There are many people with disabilities out there who share a message of overcoming the challenges related to having a disability, and that’s what many people think of when they think of motivational speakers who have disabilities.  Because that has never been my story, I had never given much thought to pursuing any sort of motivational speaking.  However, one thing that this journey to the TEDx stage has taught me is that I do have a story to share, and it’s okay that it’s different than the story many other motivational speakers with disabilities are telling.  I am extremely thankful to the curators of TEDxCherryCreekWomen for believing in me and my story and for giving me this amazing opportunity to tell my story in a way that is true to me and my personal experience as a person with a disability.

Second, and related to the above, the TEDx producers are all about authenticity.  When I met privately with the amputee who came to my middle school, it struck me that I didn’t feel like I was meeting the person who had just given a speech in front of all my classmates.  He was in front of hundreds of students using his story to motivate them to believe in themselves and believe that they could overcome the odds to live a successful and happy life.  However, that wasn’t the energy I got from him when we met one-on-one.  Looking back now, I think that lack of authenticity was part of why I didn’t feel compelled to add him to my list of role models, although I didn’t realize that was why at the time.  Given this realization now, I think I better appreciate the desire for authenticity by the TEDx producers.  I am grateful for this experience from middle school because it helped me understand the importance of this quality of authenticity in sharing your message with an audience.

With only 6 days until I walk out onto the TEDx stage to share part of my story, I am thankful for all of the people and experiences in my life that have shaped me into who I am today.

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